Jul 13, 2021
By Jake Uitti
In fact, Armisen says, it’s his first musical memory. The famed comedic star of Saturday Night Live and Portlandia and house band drummer for Late Night with Seth Meyers, says he played the song “over and over” as a kid. Music, even then for Armisen, as Davis Jr. put it so well, helped make the world taste good.
But as the years progressed from those salad days, Armisen, now 54, who holds the honorary title this year of Record Store Day Ambassador, and who will again observe the vinyl holiday this summer on July 17, began to explore more new sounds and songs. His tastes grew from the Davis Jr. confectionary bop into more rugged sonic landscape. Enter: the burgeoning thought-provoking genre of punk rock.
“I really believed in punk,” Armisen says. “Many of the bands I loved seemed to be pro-education. Education of any kind, even if it didn’t necessarily mean school education. I remember reading lyrics about politics, particularly from The Clash and the Dead Kennedys. Even though I didn’t know how British politics worked, I remember being curious about The Specials’ lyrics.”
Armisen, a vocal lover of music, is also a player of it, too. For the 2021 Record Store Day, he’s releasing a three-song instrumental EP, Parade Meeting, which was produced and recorded by the popular indie artist Ty Segall, in Segall’s Los Angeles studio. The music is funky, expressive, and reminiscent of the stuff that shot out the windows and open front doors of New York City clubs in the ’70s and well beyond.
“I thought I’d try to make something that sounds like a 12-inch single from the early ’80s,” Armisen says, adding, “I’ve just always loved the drums. They’re the coolest instrument. What looks better than a drum kit? I’m just drawn to them. Whether that’s on TV or just a little club somewhere.”
If music is an essential resource, like oxygen, then vinyl albums (along with CDs, tapes, and the like) are like the blood vessels that deliver us the air. Armisen knows this acutely. And coming out of the pandemic, he knows it even more gravely.
“I’ve always loved Record Store Day,” he says. “It’s different this year, like everything, because of COVID-19. A good friend of mine died last year from it. He introduced me to a lot of music I’d never heard. I realize everyone must have a new connection to music after last year.”
To continue the vital analogy, record stores, themselves, are like the ventricles and capillaries and arteries that carry that which we need. They deliver us the tangible tracks. And like most people, Armisen has his favorite shops. But, unlike most, his are peppered throughout the globe.
“I always shop at Amoeba in L.A.,” Armisen says. “I [also] really liked Flying Out in Auckland, New Zealand. It had a feeling of a good representation of their local music scene.”
While most artists aspire to achieve success in one field, Armisen has found admiration for his comedy, acting, music, producing and directing, which includes music videos, too. While he says he treats them “all the same” in his approach, that mentality is also often amorphous or open-minded to the subject. Often, Armisen says, he doesn’t go in with a concrete plan.
“I think of a project,” Armisen says, “like: I wonder what it would be like to try something like this?”
But in the end, while there is so much good work in his proverbial rearview window and much, it would seem, on the road directly ahead of him, for Armisen, music remains an essential component to his life, not only in his career as an artist, thinker and performer, but to his day-to-day, and in how he interacts with the world.
“Music makes me happy to be alive,” Armisen says.